How do I check my pulse?

Information written and reviewed by Certified Doctors.

You can check your heart rate by taking your pulse and counting how many times your heart beats in a minute.

Your heart rate varies depending on what you're doing – for example, it will be slower if you're sleeping and faster if you're exercising.

To get your resting heart rate, you need to have been resting for at least 5 minutes before checking your pulse.

Finding your pulse

You can find your pulse in your wrist or neck.

To find your pulse in your wrist:

  • hold out one of your hands, with your palm facing upwards
  • press the first (index) finger and middle finger of your other hand on the inside of your wrist, at the base of your thumb – don't use your thumb as it has its own pulse
  • press your skin lightly until you can feel your pulse – if you can't find it, try pressing a little harder or move your fingers around

To find your pulse in your neck:

  • press your first finger and middle finger to the side of your neck, just under your jaw and beside your windpipe – don't use your thumb
  • press your skin lightly to feel your pulse – if you can't find it, try pressing a bit harder or move your fingers around

Checking your pulse

When you find your pulse, either:

  • count the number of beats you feel for 60 seconds
  • count the number for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 This gives you your heart rate – the number of times your heart beats per minute (bpm).

You can also check if your pulse is regular or irregular by feeling its rhythm for about 30 seconds. It's very common to have occasional irregular heartbeats, such as missed beats.

But if your pulse continues to be irregular, it can be a sign of atrial fibrillation – an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate. This is more likely if you're 65 or older.

See a GP if you're worried about your pulse.

What's a normal heart rate?

Most adults have a resting heart rate between 60 and 100bpm.

The fitter you are, the lower your resting heart rate is likely to be. For example, athletes may have a resting heart rate of 40 to 60bpm, or lower.

See a GP to get checked if you think your heart rate is continuously above 120bpm or below 40bpm, although it may simply be that this is normal for you.

Exercise and your pulse

If you check your pulse during or immediately after exercise, it may give an indication of your fitness level. A heart rate monitor is also useful for recording your heart rate when resting and during exercise.

Aerobic activities such as walking, running and swimming are good types of exercise because they increase your heart and breathing rates.

How do I check someone's pulse?

You can check a person's pulse by putting 2 fingers on the inside of their wrist or on their neck.

To measure the pulse in someone's wrist:

  • hold the person's arm so it's straight, with the palm of their hand facing upwards
  • place your index (first finger) and middle fingers on their wrist, at the base of their thumb
  • using a clock or watch that counts seconds, count how many beats you feel in a minute, or count them over 30 seconds and multiply the number by 2 to work how many beats a minute if you can't find their pulse, try moving your fingers around a bit and pressing a little harder

To measure the pulse in someone's neck:

  • place your index and middle fingers on the side of their neck, in the soft hollow area just beside their windpipe
  • using a clock or watch that counts seconds, count how many beats you feel in a minute, or count them over 30 seconds and multiply the number by 2 to work how many beats a minute
  • if you can't find their pulse, try moving your fingers around a bit

A normal resting heart rate for an adult is 60 to 100 beats per minute. But this can vary, depending on things such as age, stress levels, fitness and any medication the person is taking.

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